Derek H. Kiernan-Johnson

Legal Writing Professor
Legal Writing; Appellate Court Advocacy; Judicial Opinion Writing

University of Colorado Law School
448 Wolf Law Building
401 UCB
Boulder, CO  80309-0401
Office: 428
Phone: (303) 492-5863

Curriculum Vitae:  View (PDF format)

Educational Background:
J.D.   Michigan Law School   2000  
B.A.   Princeton University   1997  

Derek Kiernan-Johnson studies how lawyers and judges write, why they write that way, and what can be done about it. His current scholarship focuses on the roles that narrative, rhetoric, and visual semiotics play in legal communication. In his teaching he strives to help students gain fluency and confidence in the language of the law, chart meaningful and sustainable career paths, understand the contemporary American judicial opinion in historical and comparative context, and reflect critically on law's role in society.

Derek received his undergraduate degree from Princeton University, where he studied religion, dramatic performance, and music. He brought these perspectives to bear in his work at the Raphael J. Moses Mesoamerican Archive, culminating in Experiencing Toxcatl: an Ixiptla's Perspective (1996), a multi-disciplinary study of an Aztec sacrifice from the sacrificee's point of view. He developed this approach further by traveling to Bayreuth, Germany, to study composer Richard Wagner and write Durch Suhn und Bul der Gnade Heil: Spiritual Suffering and Religious Salvation in the Operas of Richard Wagner (1997).

After completing his undergraduate work, he studied English cathedral architecture at Wadham College at Oxford University and then attended law school at the University of Michigan. His studies at Michigan focused on constitutional law, education law, and meaning and performance in the law, the last interest of which culminated in his 1999 study Meaning in Miranda. Following law school, he returned to Colorado to clerk for the Honorable Justice Michael L. Bender of the Colorado Supreme Court. He then practiced law for six years at Caplan and Earnest, LLC, where he counseled and advocated for public-school clients in a variety of general-counsel, transactional, and litigation settings.

He lives in Boulder with his wife Eileen, son Ronan, and daughter Kelsey, where he enjoys hiking, birding, food and drink, photography, design, and classical music.


A Shift to Narrativity, 9 Legal Comm. & Rhetoric 81 (2012).
Telling Through Type: Typography and Narrative in Legal Briefs, 7 J. Ass'n Legal Writing Directors 87 (Fall 2010).


Fall 2017 Legal Writing I LAWS 5226-801
Spring 2017 Legal Writing II LAWS 5223-802
Spring 2017 Judicial Opinion Writing LAWS 6236-001
Fall 2016 Legal Writing I LAWS 5226-801
Spring 2016 Legal Writing II LAWS 5223-802
Spring 2016 Judicial Opinion Writing LAWS 6236-001
Fall 2015 Legal Writing I LAWS 5226-801
Spring 2015 Legal Writing II LAWS 5223-802
Spring 2015 Legislative and Policy Drafting LAWS 6123-001
Fall 2014 Legal Writing I LAWS 5226-802
Spring 2014 Legal Writing II LAWS 5223-802
Spring 2014 Judicial Opinion Writing LAWS 6236-001
Fall 2013 Legal Writing I LAWS 5226-805
Spring 2013 Legal Writing II LAWS 5223-806
Spring 2013 Judicial Opinion Writing LAWS 6236-001
Fall 2012 Legal Writing I LAWS 5226-806